A few weeks before officials from the US Justice Dept. announced the unsealing of indictments against China-based tech giant Huawei — indictments that included almost two dozen criminal charges against the company — FBI officials set up a sting operation in Las Vegas. CES 2019, the splashy consumer electronics show held in Sin City each year, was under way, and agents were working with US-based startup Akhan Semiconducter. Akhan makes smartphone glass coated with synthetic diamonds, and after delivering a sample to Huawei back in 2017, the glass had come back damaged — in such a way that the US company suspected Huawei was trying to copy it. As a result, it reached out to the bureau.
Enter the FBI, which joined Akhan founder Adam Khan and chief operating officer Carl Shurboff in a meeting with Huawei representatives around a table at the Las Vegas burger joint PrimeBurger, inside the food court at The Venetian.
Details of the operation emerged in a Bloomberg story today, which noted that a reporter for Businessweek was also watching the encounter from about 100 feet away in front of a gelato stand. Per Bloomberg, “Khan and Shurboff had expected to conduct the sting in the safety and quiet of the FBI’s room at CES. Now, total rookies in the intelligence game, they had to remain calm while recording the conversation with Huawei in a noisy, crowded restaurant.”
Based on the details conveyed in the report, it sounds like it was a tense meeting at times, and it’s also unclear what came out of it from the FBI’s perspective. Khan asked one of the Huawei representatives about the damaged glass sample, who insisted there was nothing untoward about what happened. At one point, one of the Huawei representatives freaked out everyone by wondering if the US was monitoring the meeting.
Details of this sting had not come to light until now, and it helps show the extent of the US government’s investigation into Huawei’s alleged crimes. Again, from the Bloomberg report: “The FBI raided Huawei’s San Diego facility on the morning of Jan. 28. That evening, the two special agents and Assistant U.S. Attorney David Kessler briefed Khan and Shurboff by phone. The agents described the scope of the search warrant in vague terms and instructed Khan and Shurboff to have no further contact with Huawei.”
As we reported just a few days ago, the ongoing US-led opposition to Huawei which has included pressuring allies not to use the company’s telecommunications equipment took a sharp turn on January 28 with the unveiling of 23 criminal charges against the company.
During a news conference led by Acting US Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, officials explained that a grand jury in Seattle had indicted two affiliates of Huawei on 10 federal crimes related to accusations that Huawei stole technology from T-Mobile. Specifically, robotic technology that tests the durability of smartphones. Meanwhile, a grand jury in New York had also returned an indictment alleging 13 crimes committed by Huawei, its CFO, an affiliate in Iran and one of its subsidiaries in the US. Those charges are related to allegations that Huawei committed financial fraud by violating US sanctions against doing business with Iran.
Huawei has denied the charges.